Michigan State is entering a pivotal stretch in their season. At 12-8, they have only 11 regular season games and a conference tournament left to beef up their NCAA tournament resume.
This week, they get two chances to add quality wins to their resume. Sunday’s home game against rival Michigan, and tonight’s game against #20 Purdue, a name I have trouble typing correctly for no good reason.
Win both and they’re back in the driver’s seat. Split the two and things are still salvageable. Lose both and things get very murky.
Let’s check out the first opponent, the Boilermakers.
- Record: 16-4 (5-2 Conference / 11-2 Home)
- Best Win: vs #21 Notre Dame (RPI: 19), 86-81
- Worst Loss: @ Iowa (RPI: 113), 78-83
Last Five Games
- 1/21 — vs Penn State, W 77-52
- 1/17 — vs Illinois, W 91-68
- 1/12 — @ Iowa, L 78-83
- 1/8 — vs #13 Wisconsin, W 66-55
- 1/5 — @ Ohio State, W 76-75
Along with Wisconsin, Matt Painter’s crew looks like one of the best teams in the Big Ten but it’s a little more deceptive than meets the eye. At first glance, 16-4 overall and 5-2 in conference looks damn good, but the schedule has been pretty friendly, especially since conference season started.
In the non-con, Purdue lost to two of the three ranked teams they faced — Villanova and Louisville, about as excusable as losses can get — but did beat Notre Dame. Those three aside, they played, and pretty much smoked, a very manageable slate.
In the Big Ten, they’ve been as #B1G as it gets. They’ve beaten Wisconsin in impressive fashion, blown out Penn State, Illinois and Iowa but also lost at home to Minnesota, on the road at Iowa and barely squeaked by Ohio State.
This team has played some top competition, but they’ve only played three true road games all season. Two of them were losses and the other was a one-point win in Columbus.
Purdue looks the part but coming to East Lansing, even if it’s against a scuffling MSU team, will be a test they haven’t faced much of this season.
Boilermakers To Know
- F #50 Caleb Swanigan (6’9” 250, Sophomore) — 18.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 2.18 apg, 47.4% 3PT
- C #44 Isaac Haas (7’2” 290, Junior) — 13.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.7 apg, 1.1 bpg
- F #12 Vince Edwards (6’8” 225, Junior) — 11.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.6 apg, 44.6% 3PT
On paper, this looks like a large mismatch. Literally. HEYOOO.
Purdue’s frontcourt is massive and led by a familiar name, sophomore Caleb Swanigan. I probably don’t need to tell you, but the former five-star recruit was once a Michigan State commit before backing out and going to Purdue. He didn’t have the stellar freshman year most were expecting, but has put together an exceptional sophomore campaign.
He’s averaging a double-double, leading the nation in rebounding and is second in the Big Ten in scoring. On top of all that, he’s increased his three-point percentage almost 20%, from 29.2% to 47.4% (!!!).
The most noticeable difference in Swanigan is how much his conditioning has improved. Mark Titus wrote a great piece on him over at the Ringer which you should read if you have some more time to waste at work today.
Caleb Swanigan is ridiculously great—and he’s changing the face of Purdue basketball https://t.co/mcvm6HVfgi— The Ringer (@ringer) January 14, 2017
Titus specifically pointed out how he just never stops moving on either end of the floor.
This is Swanigan every time down the floor of every game. He’s like a living, breathing instruction manual on how young big men should approach the sport.
I gotta say, it’s total bullshit that Purdue gets a guy like this when no other team in America does. A brutally physical big man who never stops working in the paint and can also hit catch-and-shoot 3s in rhythm like a shooting guard? It’s just not fair.
Yeah, we think it’s bullshit too, he should be at Michigan State. BUT WE AREN’T BITTER AT ALL AND TOTALLY COULDN’T USE HIM THIS SEASON.
Sorry, had to vent. Back to it.
Swanigan is easily the best player on the team — and, as of now, by far the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of Year — but he’s not the only guy whose size will pose problems for MSU.
The other tower is 7’2” Isaac Haas. Yes, you read that correctly. He’s 7’2” and, while he isn’t the same athlete as Swanigan, is pretty nimble. Unsurprisingly, he is very tough to move when he gets position, going right over the top of most defenders. He’s not an amazing rebounder, at only 5.4 a game, but a lot of that has to do with playing alongside the nation’s leading rebounder and only playing 20 minutes or so himself.
Between the two of them, Michigan State is going to have their hands very full.
How Does MSU Match Up
Now for a live look at Kenny Goins as he imagines guarding Isaac Haas!
God speed, Kenny. May your loins be girded appropriately.
This is a really tough match up, not just down low where Swanigan and Haas will be the two tallest players on the court between both teams, but also in the backcourt.
The Boilers have three guards — Dakota Mathias (who couldn’t look less like a basketball player), PJ Thompson and Ryan Cline — who shoot over 40% from beyond the arc. Given the Spartans inability to play any perimeter defense, that’s gonna be a problem.
Let’s talk about those big guys again, though, because that’s the heart and soul of this team. Some good news is that unlike with AJ Hammons last year, Swanigan doesn’t play with another big, namely Haas, all that much. The bad news is that the Boilermakers have another do-it-all forward to pair with him, 6’8” Vince Edwards, who is a dynamic talent when he is on. Edwards is third on the team in scoring (11.9 ppg), rebounding (5.0 rpg) and three-point percentage (44.6%) and second in assists (3.6 apg).
For whatever reason, Painter seems to go away from him which can affect his aggressiveness. He averages less than 9 field goal attempts per game and shoots about 2.5 free throws, as well. If Edwards is attacking, it’s just another big body for MSU to contend with. If not, well that would be great.
The Spartans best chance in this one is to run as often as they can. If they get stuck in the half court, it’s going to be bad. Swanigan and Haas are mismatches on both ends of the floor but might have a hard time keeping up with the smaller more athletic lineup MSU uses. Tum Tum Nairn and Cassius Winston can be a real factors in that regard.
For all of his limitations, Nairn has been much more aggressive in transition this year. Sometimes that leads to getting swatted into the fifth row, but when you can’t shoot or create, you need to do something. Winston played well down the stretch last game and can hopefully prove he’s busted through the freshman wall.
If those two can force the bigs to sprint back and try to guard the rim in transition, it will go a long ways towards wearing them out and keeping them where MSU needs em — the bench.
Best case, MSU pushes the pace, wears down Swanigan and Haas, plays enough perimeter defense to keep the Boilers from running away, and maybe squeezes out a close one.
Worst case, MSU can’t get a rebound to start the transition, Purdue feeds Swanigan and Haas who dominate down low and are able find open shooters all night and MSU gets buried at home.
I think the final result is somewhere in the middle, but after the last two games, I can’t confidently pick the Spartans to upend the best team they’ve played so far in the Big Ten.